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Tide of Pacific stays tilted toward California teams

by Corey Masisak

The new-look Pacific Division broke into two tiers for the 2013-14: The California teams were on one level and the other four clubs were far off the pace.

Depending on what happens with the curious case of the San Jose Sharks' rebuilding project, it looks like those tiers could be in place again in 2014-15. The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks will expect to contend for the Stanley Cup, and the Sharks might be in the group of potential champions if their summer makeover doesn't reach extreme status.

Anaheim and San Jose were one victory away from knocking Los Angeles out of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Kings return nearly everyone and will be seeking a third NHL title in four seasons.

The other four teams are trying to return to the playoffs. Given the way teams in the Central Division have loaded up, it might be difficult for the Pacific to squeeze a fourth back into the postseason.

Here is a breakdown of what the seven Pacific Division teams have done so far this offseason and how the additions or subtractions could affect their lineup for the 2014-15 season:

Note: The additions, re-signed players, still unsigned players and subtractions pertain only to the NHL roster. The money figures are according to or have been provided by the club.


Additions: Ryan Kesler, Nate Thompson, Clayton Stoner, Jason LaBarbera

Re-signed: Sami Vatanen

Still unsigned: Jakob Silfverberg (RFA), Devante Smith-Pelly (RFA), Saku Koivu (UFA), David Steckel (UFA), Daniel Winnik (UFA)

Subtractions: Teemu Selanne (retired), Nick Bonino (Vancouver Canucks), Luca Sbisa (Vancouver Canucks), Stephane Robidas (Toronto Maple Leafs), Jonas Hiller (Calgary Flames), Mathieu Perreault (Winnipeg Jets)

The big addition is Kesler, who will help the Ducks match up against the other elite Western teams at center, and Thompson is a nice depth signing at the position. They could be joined by one of three prized prospects -- Rickard Rakell, William Karlsson or Nicolas Kerdilles -- behind Ryan Getzlaf on the depth chart.

Not bringing back Winnik, along with Selanne's retirement, will open playing time on the wing for Anaheim's flock of exciting young players. Smith-Pelly, Emerson Etem and Stefan Noesen could push for regular roles, along with the three potential centers.

The Ducks did not possess the puck like an elite team last season, but they thrived in the regular season by leading the League in shooting percentage. Kesler and the infusion of youth could help in the puck-possession department, but adding Stoner will not. Cam Fowler, Ben Lovejoy, Hampus Lindholm and Vatanen are a nice base, but that leaves two spots for possession anchors Stoner, Bryan Allen or Mark Fistric.

Anaheim is right there up front and in goal with the best in the West but might be a little short on the blue line compared to Los Angeles, the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues.


Additions: John Scott, Tye McGinn

Re-signed: Alex Stalock, Mike Brown, Tommy Wingels, James Sheppard, Scott Hannan, Jason Demers

Subtractions: Dan Boyle (New York Rangers), Brad Stuart (Colorado Avalanche), Martin Havlat (New Jersey Devils)

The Sharks might be the team most likely to not look the same on opening night as they do in July. San Jose general manager Doug Wilson has been very forthcoming about his plans to change the Sharks, even using phrases like, "We now become a tomorrow team."

To this point the changes have been minor, and the Sharks remain one of the elite teams in the League. That's a weird thing to say for a team that is open about wanting to rebuild, but more changes could be coming. Letting go of a couple of veteran defensemen should mean finding a regular place on the roster for prospect Mirco Mueller, or Taylor Fedun or Matt Tennyson.

Wilson said adding Scott will help protect some of the younger players the Sharks plan to give more playing time, but adding him and re-signing Brown is an odd reaction after nearly defeating the eventual Stanley Cup champion Kings in the Western Conference First Round. Otherwise, the forward group, at least the top three lines, remains among the best in the NHL.

The Sharks could be a playoff team and one capable of a deep run, but the margins are going to be slim considering the depth of great teams in the West. Removing even one key player from this group could send San Jose tumbling down the pecking order.


Additions: Adam Cracknell

Re-signed: Marian Gaborik, Matt Greene, Brayden McNabb, Jeff Schultz

Still unsigned: Dwight King (RFA), Colin Fraser (UFA)

Subtractions: Willie Mitchell (Florida Panthers)

When the Kings won the Stanley Cup in 2012, they brought back every significant player the following season. It almost will happen again, though there wasn't enough salary-cap room to retain both Greene and Mitchell.

The Kings are built to contend for years to come, and a full season of Gaborik, Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson should cure some of the offensive woes they had in the regular season. Have the other elite teams done enough to match the depth of Los Angeles? Will the fatigue from so many games the past few seasons and the short offseasons catch up to the Kings?

Those are nice "issues" to be dealing with.


Additions: Sam Gagner, Joe Vitale, Devan Dubnyk, Mike McKenna, B.J. Crombeen

Re-signed:  David Moss, Chris Summers

Still unsigned: Paul Bissonnette (UFA), Jeff Halpern (UFA), John Mitchell (UFA), Derek Morris (UFA), Brandon Yip (UFA)

Subtractions: Radim Vrbata (Vancouver Canucks), Mike Ribeiro (buyout), Tim Kennedy (Washington Capitals)

The Coyotes missed the playoffs by two points last season, but two of the top five scorers are gone. Gagner is the replacement for Ribeiro, but disappointing statistics for Ribeiro in 2013-14 (16 goals, 47 points) are about what Gagner has averaged in his six full NHL seasons, and the former Edmonton Oilers center is coming off his worst output (10 goals, 37 points).

Arizona needs more offense, not less. Top prospect Max Domi might be ready to help; a full season of Martin Erat could too. The Coyotes will remain one of the better teams at finding offense from their defensemen, and a full season of health for goaltender Mike Smith would help their bid to return to the postseason.


Additions: Ryan Miller, Radim Vrbata, Nick Bonino, Luca Sbisa, Derek Dorsett, Linden Vey

Re-signed: Zack Kassian, Christopher Tanev, Yannick Weber, Linden Vey

Still unsigned: Andrew Alberts (UFA)

Subtractions: Ryan Kesler (Anaheim Ducks), Jason Garrison (Tampa Bay Lightning), David Booth (buyout), Mike Santorelli (Toronto Maple Leafs), Zac Dalpe (Buffalo Sabres)

Unlike the Sharks, the Canucks have traded away core players to facilitate a rebuild (Roberto Luongo, Kesler), but like San Jose they haven't completely committed to bottoming out. The Canucks roster is flawed but might have enough for a run at the playoffs.

Bonino and Vrbata could replace what Kesler and Booth produced, and the combination of better luck and health for Alexandre Burrows, Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin could give Vancouver a decent top two lines. A new coach (Willie Desjardins) and a new system could help produce more offense.

Miller is the big acquisition, but how much better he is than Eddie Lack in goal remains to be seen. Lack and Jacob Markstrom are on one-way contracts. Sbisa missed a lot of last season because of an injury but could find some success in a No. 4/5 role with this defense.


Additions: Mason Raymond, Jonas Hiller, Deryk Engelland, Brandon Bollig

Re-signed: Paul Byron, Joe Colborne

Still unsigned: Lance Bouma (RFA), TJ Galiardi (UFA), Derek Smith (UFA), Kevin Westgarth (UFA)

Subtractions: Chris Butler (St. Louis Blues), Mike Cammalleri (New Jersey Devils), Blair Jones (Philadelphia Flyers), Joey MacDonald (Montreal Canadiens)

Cammalleri was the leading goal-scorer last season. Raymond had a bounce-back season with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2013-14 and will be expected to absorb first- or second-line minutes. 2014 first-round pick Samuel Bennett and Hobey Baker Award winner Johnny Gaudreau could join second-year forward Sean Monahan to form an enviable young core up front.

Mark Giordano had a monster season in 2013-14 and will continue to anchor the defense. If Engelland for Butler is the only change, it is hard to see the rest of the group being improved next season.

Hiller will compete with Karri Ramo in net; each finished last season with a .911 save percentage. The rhetoric in Calgary might be anti-rebuild, but it is hard to see a way back to the postseason in 2014-15 on the Red Mile.


Additions: Teddy Purcell, Benoit Pouliot, Mark Fayne, Nikita Nikitin, Steve Pinizzotto

Re-signed: Luke Gazdic, Jeff Petry

Still unsigned: Justin Schultz (RFA), Ryan Jones (UFA), Mark Fraser (UFA)

Subtractions: Sam Gagner (Arizona Coyotes), Taylor Fedun (San Jose Sharks), Anton Belov (KHL), Philip Larsen (KHL)

Of the four Pacific teams that didn't qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Oilers have made the most improvements. They also have the furthest to go.

The defense could look a lot different, with Fayne, Nikitin and possibly a young player (Oscar Klefbom or Darnell Nurse) joining a group that includes Schultz, Martin Marincin and captain Andrew Ference. It's by no means elite, but the addition of Fayne, in particular, and a full season of Marincin could make it a lot better than last season.

Pouliot, like Fayne, has strong possession numbers in recent seasons; that would be a welcome development for the Oilers. Edmonton could use a veteran replacement for Gagner, though 2014 first-round pick Leon Draisaitl is a possibility at center behind Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

The Oilers added goaltenders Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth during the 2013-14 season, and stability at that position could go a long way to help Edmonton possibly being the best of the non-California teams in the division.

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